He won’t have that chance now.
Crowe’s 13-year run as the Gamecocks’ head football coach ended abruptly Friday evening when he was fired — with two years left on his contract — following several days of comprehensive postseason meetings with athletics director Warren Koegel.
No interim coach was named.
“It was time for us to change,” Koegel said. “It’s very hard, emotional and tough, especially with a guy you and I know so well. He did a lot of great things for this program and I applaud his efforts.
“It’s not a one-man decision. I had a lot of input from a lot of people. We’re just looking for new leadership.”
Crowe went 87-57 with three Ohio Valley Conference championships (2003, 2004, 2011) during his JSU tenure, and this season scored his 100th career victory as a head coach. The Gamecocks went to the NCAA playoffs three times (2003, 2004, 2010) — all as members of the Ohio Valley Conference — but never won a postseason game.
His 2010 team was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally and poised to take over the top spot with a victory they couldn’t get at Eastern Kentucky.
His length of service and victory count both are second in JSU history to only Don Salls, who won 95 games over 18 seasons.
“I didn’t see this coming, really,” Crowe said, “but I knew something had to change in the direction of the leadership, I can tell you that.
“I thought we were going to be able to take advantage of the investment we made with this group of young players and changing defenses.”
The Gamecocks still owe Crowe on the final two years of his contract, which paid him an annual salary of $162,000. Those negotiations still have to be settled.
“I have no reason to think it won’t be a fine gentleman’s agreement,” Crowe said.
It was generally believed Crowe would have stayed in place at least through the length of his current contract. The revenue generated by the guarantee games he helped secure may be the funding for the settlement.
The Gamecocks have enjoyed 10 consecutive winning seasons under Crowe, the longest such run in school history. This season they went 6-5, with two of the losses coming to Arkansas and Florida in their first and last games of the season.
The signature victory of his tenure came in the 2010 season opener when the Gamecocks rallied to beat Ole Miss 49-48 in double overtime, with Marques Ivory engineering the game-tying touchdown drive and a freshman quarterback named Coty Blanchard directing the game-winning scores.
“I heard the news; it’s not good,” Blanchard said Friday night.
There was no immediate word on the future of the assistant coaches, none of whom had a contract and will get their last paycheck Jan. 1.
Koegel addressed the players and spoke with the assistants Friday night. He told the assistants they would be expected to help the program through semester exams and recruiting.
“We’re a team,” Koegel said.
Attempts to reach several assistants Friday night were unsuccessful.
Crowe said he regretted not being able to tell his assistant coaches or his players about his ouster. Coincidentally, only hours before the decision, the Gamecocks received a verbal commitment from Spain Park quarterback Nick Mullens, the state’s 2012 Gatorade Football Player of the Year.
“I’m completely shocked,” Mullens said. “That thought never even ran in my mind. As of right now, I am committed to Jacksonville State.”
In addition to Mullens, the Gamecocks had secured nearly a dozen other verbal commitments for the incoming signing class. Crowe said he wasn’t sure how the coaching change would impact those commitments, but said they were more closely tied to the relationships built with the assistants than with him, whose role he described as “the closer.”
One of those early commitments, Lake City, Fla., quarterback Jayce Barber, signed with the Gamecocks earlier this month and was expected to enroll in January, but since he didn’t sign a National Letter of Intent, he is free to explore his options.
Koegel said a national search will be conducted to find Crowe’s successor. It isn’t expected to be a swift transition and Koegel said he didn’t have any candidates immediately in mind.
“I would never have a group of names in my pocket that I’m ready to talk to,” Koegel said. “Absolutely nobody has been talked to prior to this decision being made. … We’re going to do it right.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.